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Discussion #8 - Automation / Technology

As we enter the information (overload) age, 3 things are obvious:

1. Many job descriptions are changing, becoming higher skilled & more sedentary.
2. Many jobs are being relocated due to (dramatically) lower wages, benefits & pensions.
3. Many jobs are disappearing forever due to technology & automation.

The biggest number on the expense side of any large business balance sheet, is always human wages. When a piece of robotic hardware or software displaces a human worker, that job is gone for good. There is no reversing it, as the cost of technology will always decrease, & the cost of human labour will always increase.

This evolutionary process was/is inevitable, & is not necessarily a bad thing, we just have to evolve & adapt to it. Technology will make our lives much better, if we do things like enforce a shorter work-week world-wide, increase wages to compensate & clean up our energy. Of course, this will not go over well with big business, as in the short term it will result in lower profits. In the long term however, profits will bounce back even higher, as consumer buying power increases, & people have more free time to shop. Energy corporations will also have to adapt. We seem to forget, the main purpose of technology & automation is to make life better for everyone, not just rich corporations & governments.

One argument I hear a lot is the one that goes something like this: Automation lends itself the best to performing the more menial tasks. Automating these jobs simply frees up more resources to grow the business in other ways, therefore creating more better quality jobs. While on the surface this seems to be an excellent argument, if you look a tiny bit deeper it becomes obvious this actually makes no sense at all. There is no company on earth that cares more about hiring more employees (or paying them more) over the bottom line (increasing profits). Therefore if a task does not need to be done by a human being, it likely won't be.

If a company is growing, it's likely from the action of taking some market share from other competing companies (which is of course how the game is played). What it means however, is that there is still an overall net loss of jobs, as your hiring blitz will simply be relocating jobs from your competitors to you (when or if you look at the bigger picture). At the end of the day (or year), work is work and a job is a job. The shell game of shuffling jobs around between companies does not erase the fact that work and jobs are vanishing permanently every day that passes from advancing technology. No one knows for sure what the exact ratio is, but it's likely in the neighborhood of one new (higher quality) job being created for every twenty (menial) that are lost.

There are plenty of hungry people in the world, who would absolutely love the idea of possessing one of those "menial" jobs (many of which are probably quite enjoyable)! What most companies refer to as "higher quality" normally means higher paying and far more sedentary. Not everyone enjoys a sedentary career, and not everyone is obsessed with earning a massive wage. Very few career descriptions are and will be immune to being replaced by technology. For around $9,000 USD, you can now buy an amazing humanoid robot teacher, interactive with incredibly lifelike body movements. Kids especially are incredibly fascinated and engaged with this form of teaching. Many companies are currently working on (and testing) driverless cars, taxis, trucks, etc.

The world simply cannot afford the luxury of this form of ignorance any longer. In order for consumerism to work, there needs to be plenty of consumers who have the capacity to earn money somehow. The solutions do NOT involve abstaining, refraining or otherwise avoiding technology in business. It is overall a good thing and a steaming locomotive that can't be stopped (or even slowed down). The solutions DO involve adapting to these new realities.

These realities are that (like it or not), technology is starting to do the work for humans, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as with climate change, most of the people alive today think that these issues will not seriously affect them in their lifetime (and thus barely care). We could not be more wrong. Then there are the truly delutional, who think that we can simply stop this form of technology from advancing, once jobs start becoming far too scarce.

The younger generation are in one way very blessed to be growing up with all of this cool and amazing technology at their disposal. On the other hand, much of this same technology is currently and in the near future, going to be displacing many of them (and us) in the job markets. It's quite a paradox, and more than a little ironic.

Very similar to energy transition, the transition from a labour-intensive global economy (for the masses), to a far more leisure-based, will not be even remotely painless. Nevertheless, it is inevitable, and not eons from now, but is actually in the early stages already. This monumental shift also attacks the very foundation of what many believe to be the holy grail of human significance; hard work, and staying almost constantly busy. The almost religious fear and paranoia of being labelled "lazy", or "a bum" (unless or even despite retirement), is an extremely powerful psychological force in modern cultures around the world. Most people are quite concerned (many obsessed) with how we are perceived by others in our social or societal circles, and career (or lack thereof), is normally a massive deal in this department. The obvious solution of gradually decreasing work-weeks for the masses (for no less pay), is not something that larger corporations around the world are exactly drooling over.

We can't live in a world with constantly advancing technology, much of which is designed to do the work for humans, and expect the demand for human labor to stay the same (or go up). We can shuffle the remaining work around between companies & countries, but if you look at the really big picture, this evolutionary process will continue to advance forever, and will likely even accelerate as we move forward. All this while we now have both genders commonly with careers in the workplace, when historically there was mainly just the one (not trying to be sexist, it's just an obvious fact we often forget). The world really cannot afford to ignore this new techno-reality for much longer. We must adapt to it, not deny it, and the sooner the better.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), approx. 38% of all careers could potentially be at high risk of being replaced by automation by 2030 (in the US). 30% in the UK, 35% in Germany, and so on. The solution to this massive speed bump in our microevolution, is not to go hog wild and resort to desperate Communist-like measures (such as universal basic income). This proposition basically means that every citizen without work would get a fairly decent annual salary (basically just beefed up welfare). A few big problems with this solution, are that it would cost governments a fortune, and basically destroy the work ethic & sense of purpose for all who receive it.

The big picture wise solution is to gradually phase in work-sharing and early retirement, along with encouraging reasonable, livable wages for all who want to work. This means shorter work weeks, and more leisure time, something that experts have been predicting for over a century. If we all cling to this obsolete "all-or-nothing" ideology, then it's basically just narrow-minded stubbornness, and it will inflict a lot of unnecessary pain & suffering to many, especially the younger generations, who have not yet had a chance to make their money.

Speaking of the younger generations, just a quick word on this new mind-altering phenomenon we call the internet. As we all know by now, this force of technology is now the most powerful tool in the universe. Sadly, often used for evil, but luckily, often used for incredible good as well. As this relatively new form of tech continues to evolve, let's all be mindful of it's incredible power, and maybe try and do more positive things with it (along with not getting addicted to it).

Historically, technology has actually created more jobs than it's eliminated, but this is due to it's progressive learning curve. As automation processes and other forms of technology advance, we permanently accumulate knowledge, software, design, & engineering techniques. As we move forward in this form of evolution, the graph will start to flip over, and far more work will be eliminated than created.

A good example of this would be AI replacing call centre jobs. There is a lot of work involved researching & programming AI processes, but once the majority of this is accomplished, the learning curve will start to relax, & this work will become minimal. The millions of call centre jobs that have been permanently eliminated however, will be a lasting legacy. There is also a quickly accelerating problem in the area of taxation. As we all know, robots will never pay taxes, and the companies which benefit from the increase in profits from this, don't generally pay much either!

This is not at all a doom & gloom story. The added leisure time that technology will soon create for all of humanity, is actually going to dramatically increase the quality of life for the vast majority. We just need to start adjusting economically to this new developing reality, as soon as possible. Just think about how far we've come since the pioneer days, only a century or two ago. The big difference, is that these sorts of changes are starting to dramatically accelerate. The next 10 years will likely see bigger changes than the last 200, especially in the area of careers and human labour.

One of the most dramatic and unbelievable examples of these changes, would be the budding advancements in 3d printing. There are now large 3d printers which can literally build (or print) a large house in less than 24 hours, and for a small fraction of the cost of traditional construction methods. The "ink" is concrete, often mixed with recycled building materials. Just try googling "3d printed house" and watch a video or two, you will be truly amazed. While this life-altering technology is not quite ready for prime time yet, within 10 or 15 years, it will be.

While many are still living in a fairytale world, thinking that these changes will not occur in earnest for another 50 to 100 years, the reality is that it's already started, and will be kicking into high gear in another 10 years or so.

It's fascinating how naively optimistic most world leaders are about the nature of future human labour. There is plenty of discussion about planning and preparing for the job types of the future, but virtually no discussion about overall demand. As much as discussing (or even acknowledging) this issue scares the living daylights out of both politicians and the general public alike, to ignore & deny it is an extremely unwise economic strategy.

Keep in mind this simple yet king of all business formulas; Profit = revenue - expenses. Companies around the world are not simply using new technology to keep expenses the same by replacing job types, they're frantically trying to use it to reduce expenses, (human labour virtually always being the biggest).

There are two real solutions to this issue, which are actually quite simple in principle. Virtually every country on the planet is currently a mixture of both Capitalism and Socialism. To accomodate for an increasingly automated global job market, the first method, (& the favourite of big business), is to start injecting more Socialism into the mix. This means solutions such as the commonly talked about "universal basic income". Large companies love this solution, because it means that governments and tax dollars would basically pay for many to just sit around and do no work at all.

The second and far better solution, is to basically limit and share whatever work is left for human beings. The reason why this approach is far better, is that we humans derive so much of our self-worth and sense of purpose from our work. To have the situation be all-or-nothing, is simply a recipe for disaster, on many different levels. Big business obviously hates this solution, as it would cost them far more money. They would prefer that governments and our tax dollars pay for the fix. The cost of human employees is always higher for any business when there are more people working less hours. This is mainly due to benefits, pensions, training, etc.

Assuming the second solution wins out over the first, believe it or not, the quality of life for most around the world will actually increase dramatically from this form of advancing technology. It already has, when you stop and think about it. When you look back at the typical pioneer lifestyle, for example, our modern way of life is actually quite incredible. Not to mention the average human lifespan has basically doubled since then. Overall, if we adapt, this is a very good news story, since we all know that technology is never going to stop advancing, nor should it.
Discussion #8 - Automation / Technology

As we enter the information (overload) age, 3 things are obvious:

1. Many job descriptions are changing, becoming higher skilled & more sedentary.
2. Many jobs are being relocated due to (dramatically) lower wages, benefits & pensions.
3. Many jobs are disappearing forever due to technology & automation.

The biggest number on the expense side of any large business balance sheet, is always human wages. When a piece of robotic hardware or software displaces a human worker, that job is gone for good. There is no reversing it, as the cost of technology will always decrease, & the cost of human labour will always increase.

This evolutionary process was/is inevitable, & is not necessarily a bad thing, we just have to evolve & adapt to it. Technology will make our lives much better, if we do things like enforce a shorter work-week world-wide, increase wages to compensate & clean up our energy. Of course, this will not go over well with big business, as in the short term it will result in lower profits. In the long term however, profits will bounce back even higher, as consumer buying power increases, & people have more free time to shop. Energy corporations will also have to adapt. We seem to forget, the main purpose of technology & automation is to make life better for everyone, not just rich corporations & governments.

One argument I hear a lot is the one that goes something like this: Automation lends itself the best to performing the more menial tasks. Automating these jobs simply frees up more resources to grow the business in other ways, therefore creating more better quality jobs. While on the surface this seems to be an excellent argument, if you look a tiny bit deeper it becomes obvious this actually makes no sense at all. There is no company on earth that cares more about hiring more employees (or paying them more) over the bottom line (increasing profits). Therefore if a task does not need to be done by a human being, it likely won't be.

If a company is growing, it's likely from the action of taking some market share from other competing companies (which is of course how the game is played). What it means however, is that there is still an overall net loss of jobs, as your hiring blitz will simply be relocating jobs from your competitors to you (when or if you look at the bigger picture). At the end of the day (or year), work is work and a job is a job. The shell game of shuffling jobs around between companies does not erase the fact that work and jobs are vanishing permanently every day that passes from advancing technology. No one knows for sure what the exact ratio is, but it's likely in the neighborhood of one new (higher quality) job being created for every twenty (menial) that are lost.

There are plenty of hungry people in the world, who would absolutely love the idea of possessing one of those "menial" jobs (many of which are probably quite enjoyable)! What most companies refer to as "higher quality" normally means higher paying and far more sedentary. Not everyone enjoys a sedentary career, and not everyone is obsessed with earning a massive wage. Very few career descriptions are and will be immune to being replaced by technology. For around $9,000 USD, you can now buy an amazing humanoid robot teacher, interactive with incredibly lifelike body movements. Kids especially are incredibly fascinated and engaged with this form of teaching. Many companies are currently working on (and testing) driverless cars, taxis, trucks, etc.

The world simply cannot afford the luxury of this form of ignorance any longer. In order for consumerism to work, there needs to be plenty of consumers who have the capacity to earn money somehow. The solutions do NOT involve abstaining, refraining or otherwise avoiding technology in business. It is overall a good thing and a steaming locomotive that can't be stopped (or even slowed down). The solutions DO involve adapting to these new realities.

These realities are that (like it or not), technology is starting to do the work for humans, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as with climate change, most of the people alive today think that these issues will not seriously affect them in their lifetime (and thus barely care). We could not be more wrong. Then there are the truly delutional, who think that we can simply stop this form of technology from advancing, once jobs start becoming far too scarce.

The younger generation are in one way very blessed to be growing up with all of this cool and amazing technology at their disposal. On the other hand, much of this same technology is currently and in the near future, going to be displacing many of them (and us) in the job markets. It's quite a paradox, and more than a little ironic.

Very similar to energy transition, the transition from a labour-intensive global economy (for the masses), to a far more leisure-based, will not be even remotely painless. Nevertheless, it is inevitable, and not eons from now, but is actually in the early stages already. This monumental shift also attacks the very foundation of what many believe to be the holy grail of human significance; hard work, and staying almost constantly busy. The almost religious fear and paranoia of being labelled "lazy", or "a bum" (unless or even despite retirement), is an extremely powerful psychological force in modern cultures around the world. Most people are quite concerned (many obsessed) with how we are perceived by others in our social or societal circles, and career (or lack thereof), is normally a massive deal in this department. The obvious solution of gradually decreasing work-weeks for the masses (for no less pay), is not something that larger corporations around the world are exactly drooling over.

We can't live in a world with constantly advancing technology, much of which is designed to do the work for humans, and expect the demand for human labor to stay the same (or go up). We can shuffle the remaining work around between companies & countries, but if you look at the really big picture, this evolutionary process will continue to advance forever, and will likely even accelerate as we move forward. All this while we now have both genders commonly with careers in the workplace, when historically there was mainly just the one (not trying to be sexist, it's just an obvious fact we often forget). The world really cannot afford to ignore this new techno-reality for much longer. We must adapt to it, not deny it, and the sooner the better.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), approx. 38% of all careers could potentially be at high risk of being replaced by automation by 2030 (in the US). 30% in the UK, 35% in Germany, and so on. The solution to this massive speed bump in our microevolution, is not to go hog wild and resort to desperate Communist-like measures (such as universal basic income). This proposition basically means that every citizen without work would get a fairly decent annual salary (basically just beefed up welfare). A few big problems with this solution, are that it would cost governments a fortune, and basically destroy the work ethic & sense of purpose for all who receive it.

The big picture wise solution is to gradually phase in work-sharing and early retirement, along with encouraging reasonable, livable wages for all who want to work. This means shorter work weeks, and more leisure time, something that experts have been predicting for over a century. If we all cling to this obsolete "all-or-nothing" ideology, then it's basically just narrow-minded stubbornness, and it will inflict a lot of unnecessary pain & suffering to many, especially the younger generations, who have not yet had a chance to make their money.

Speaking of the younger generations, just a quick word on this new mind-altering phenomenon we call the internet. As we all know by now, this force of technology is now the most powerful tool in the universe. Sadly, often used for evil, but luckily, often used for incredible good as well. As this relatively new form of tech continues to evolve, let's all be mindful of it's incredible power, and maybe try and do more positive things with it (along with not getting addicted to it).

Historically, technology has actually created more jobs than it's eliminated, but this is due to it's progressive learning curve. As automation processes and other forms of technology advance, we permanently accumulate knowledge, software, design, & engineering techniques. As we move forward in this form of evolution, the graph will start to flip over, and far more work will be eliminated than created.

A good example of this would be AI replacing call centre jobs. There is a lot of work involved researching & programming AI processes, but once the majority of this is accomplished, the learning curve will start to relax, & this work will become minimal. The millions of call centre jobs that have been permanently eliminated however, will be a lasting legacy. There is also a quickly accelerating problem in the area of taxation. As we all know, robots will never pay taxes, and the companies which benefit from the increase in profits from this, don't generally pay much either!

This is not at all a doom & gloom story. The added leisure time that technology will soon create for all of humanity, is actually going to dramatically increase the quality of life for the vast majority. We just need to start adjusting economically to this new developing reality, as soon as possible. Just think about how far we've come since the pioneer days, only a century or two ago. The big difference, is that these sorts of changes are starting to dramatically accelerate. The next 10 years will likely see bigger changes than the last 200, especially in the area of careers and human labour.

One of the most dramatic and unbelievable examples of these changes, would be the budding advancements in 3d printing. There are now large 3d printers which can literally build (or print) a large house in less than 24 hours, and for a small fraction of the cost of traditional construction methods. The "ink" is concrete, often mixed with recycled building materials. Just try googling "3d printed house" and watch a video or two, you will be truly amazed. While this life-altering technology is not quite ready for prime time yet, within 10 or 15 years, it will be.

While many are still living in a fairytale world, thinking that these changes will not occur in earnest for another 50 to 100 years, the reality is that it's already started, and will be kicking into high gear in another 10 years or so.

It's fascinating how naively optimistic most world leaders are about the nature of future human labour. There is plenty of discussion about planning and preparing for the job types of the future, but virtually no discussion about overall demand. As much as discussing (or even acknowledging) this issue scares the living daylights out of both politicians and the general public alike, to ignore & deny it is an extremely unwise economic strategy.

Keep in mind this simple yet king of all business formulas; Profit = revenue - expenses. Companies around the world are not simply using new technology to keep expenses the same by replacing job types, they're frantically trying to use it to reduce expenses, (human labour virtually always being the biggest).

There are two real solutions to this issue, which are actually quite simple in principle. Virtually every country on the planet is currently a mixture of both Capitalism and Socialism. To accomodate for an increasingly automated global job market, the first method, (& the favourite of big business), is to start injecting more Socialism into the mix. This means solutions such as the commonly talked about "universal basic income". Large companies love this solution, because it means that governments and tax dollars would basically pay for many to just sit around and do no work at all.

The second and far better solution, is to basically limit and share whatever work is left for human beings. The reason why this approach is far better, is that we humans derive so much of our self-worth and sense of purpose from our work. To have the situation be all-or-nothing, is simply a recipe for disaster, on many different levels. Big business obviously hates this solution, as it would cost them far more money. They would prefer that governments and our tax dollars pay for the fix. The cost of human employees is always higher for any business when there are more people working less hours. This is mainly due to benefits, pensions, training, etc.

Assuming the second solution wins out over the first, believe it or not, the quality of life for most around the world will actually increase dramatically from this form of advancing technology. It already has, when you stop and think about it. When you look back at the typical pioneer lifestyle, for example, our modern way of life is actually quite incredible. Not to mention the average human lifespan has basically doubled since then. Overall, if we adapt, this is a very good news story, since we all know that technology is never going to stop advancing, nor should it.